By Wole Olujobi

It happened just the way we all thought it would/should be: a scholarly interpretation of the Nigerian law anchored on facts, rationality and conscious attempt at strengthening the supremacy of the nation’s law bordering on fundamental rights to freedom of choice and principle of franchise of the universal adult suffrage.

Even though the judgement must have bruised the egos of some law barons and rankled the ranks of Nigeria’s power dealers, as it were, politicians and ordinary Nigerian citizens are being indoctrinated into living in the confines of the law, to understand the fundamentals of democratic practice as opposed to the culture of power renting and tricks of political jackboots in the corners of power loop that hold Nigerians by the hair.

It is all about the judgement on the petition by the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Asiwaju Segun Oni, on the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji, and his Deputy, Chief (Mrs) Christiana Monisade Afuye, in the June 18, 2022 governorship election in Ekiti State.

Oni is not new to getting favourable verdict in election petition to savour power in a clearly flawed and cliffhanger electoral process marked by violence and fraud. 

Last time, the smart cookie of the right scored all the cards under their sleeves, shamed the law and stayed the course of dubious authority in audacious profundity after several people lost their lives and limbs; a curious madness of the reality of 21 Century democratic practice in Nigeria,  until the superior force of law struck on October 15, 2010 that cleared the debris of election mayhem for a dispensation that recorded several firsts in  Ekiti State’s development history before another contrivance of a political bogey in the 2014 governorship poll reversed the Governor Kayode Fayemi-inspired fortunes.

This time, particularly as the case progressed at the tribunal, the memorable precedence of that judicial abracadabra lived in the hearts and consciousness of Ekiti people, who were on edge again this time as to what would become of the petition by Oni, which, in the first instance, surprised Ekiti people as to the rationality behind a petition against the most peaceful election in the history of Ekiti State’s volatile political space.

Facts of the case will suffice: INEC had on June 19, 2022, declared Oyebanji the winner of the poll described by local and international observers as the most peaceful and transparent ballot in the state with a total number of 187,057 votes with Oyebanji winning in 15 out of the 16 local government areas in the governorship election conducted on June 18, 2022.

Oni scored 82,211 votes to come second in the ballot. He did not win any local government, while the PDP candidate, Chief Bisi Kolawole, who came third,  won his Efon Local Government, scoring 67,457 votes.

Total number of accredited voters was 356,438 while the total number of valid votes cast was 369,753. Total number of rejected votes was 8,888.

In his petition, Oni had urged the tribunal to declare him the winner of the poll, claiming to have scored total number of highest lawful votes cast on grounds that Oyebanji’s nomination by Governor Mai Mala Buni in his capacity as the APC National Caretaker Chairman was illegal.

Oni also disputed the legality of the certificates presented by the Deputy Governorship candidate of APC, Chief (Mrs) Monisade Christiana Afuye.

Also in dispute was allegation of votes buying by APC polling agents to illegally give victory to Oyebanji.

But Oyebanji, APC, Buni, INEC and Afuye urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the petition lacked merit, urging the panel to uphold the election on grounds that it complied with the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution as amended.

In its judgement read today (December 29, 2022) by a member of the Tribunal,  Justice Zaad Zadawa, the court held that it had no jurisdiction to decide on Buni’s involvement in the nomination of the party’s candidate, being a pre-election matter.

It should also be noted that even a superior court of competent jurisdiction had earlier ruled that Buni enjoyed immunity as a sitting governor, hence no court can try him.

And succinctly, the tribunal ruled: “This tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to inquire into the time and role played by Governor Mai Mala Buni in the selection of the governorship candidate of APC,” affirming that it was puerile for the petitioners to base their case on the signing of a nomination letter since it was “the party at the state level that decided candidate to represent it in an election.”

The tribunal held that the SDP and its candidate failed to present satisfactory evidence that the incumbent Governor, Oyebanji, and his Deputy, Afuye,  were not qualified to contest the June 18 poll.

The court also ruled that all the certificates presented by Afuye were genuine and belonged to her,  and that it could not establish any case against the unnamed APC polling agents that were allegedly involved in votes buying, explaining that all the allegations raised by Oni were “generic in nature, vague, nebulous, imprecise and lacks specificity”.

Though Oni’s life-time ambition that was pursued with sinews, vigour and tacts is to govern Ekiti State at all costs and by all means after his ill-fated run in the 2007 governorship that ended in fiasco, the cookie has finally crumbled, a fact that underscores the potency of fate in its tricky wheel of fortune.

Now that the chicks have come home to roost, it is time to give Oyebanji a breathing space to deliver on his Six-point agenda for the progress of Ekiti people. It is also time to support APC’s candidates to victory in the February 2023 general elections.

Supporting Oyebanji in his mission and vision to grow Ekiti State to prosperity should be a collective effort in bonded spirit in this Tribunal’s win-win victory that has potential to strengthen the nation’s law and create a vista for the oneness of spirit to lift the state to greater heights for the benefit of all Ekiti people.